William Curtis (1746-1799)


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Curtis was trained in pharmaceuticals, articled to his Uncle. At the age of 27, he was appointed, Demonstrator and 'Praefectus Horti' to the Chelsea Society of Apothecaries. His passion, however, was botany, his forte being British flora. His first project was funded by Lord Bute and consisted of illustrations and descriptions of the wild flowers within a 10 mile radius of London. This was called Flora Londinesis and was published in 1777. Having completed this task, he resigned from this post and began a collection consisting of 70 folios. This collection was not very profitable, gardeners were not interested in 'weeds', they wanted to see garden flowers. Because gardeners were more affluent than botanists at the time, he discontinued his work on this publication and began work on the Botanical Magazine which would cater for their tastes.

This periodical: The Botanical Magazine, was extremely popular, its first publication being in 1787. Of the many horticultural and botanical periodicals produced since this, the foremost, there is not one among them that compares to the extensive work of William Curtis, his passion for botany being his motivation. After the death of Curtis, in 1799, the Botanical Magazine was continued by a friend on his, John Sims and was then passed on to William Jackson Hooker. It was continued for almost two centuries until 1984 when it was integrated with the The Kew Magazine.

The principal artists employed for this work (in Curtis' Lifetime) were William Kilburn, James Sowerby and Sydenham T. Edwards. All of which worked with Curtis for 28 years and were responsible for the exquisite quality of the plates contained within the magazine. Later illustrators after Curtis died were W. J. Hooker, Walter Hood Fitch and his nephew, John Nugent Fitch. The Fitches being the sole illustrators for 71 years.

William Curtis

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